Thursday, April 28, 2016

One-Upping and The Gospel of Grace

My friend Carolyn
Welcome to a special Echoes of Grace. My friend Carolyn Eden and I collaborated on this post.Thank you Carolyn.

And thank you to Julie Breuninger and her words in Velvet Ashes on one-up-man-ship that stretched my understanding of this concept. 

Our words were friendly enough.
The conversation flowed easily - perhaps too easily.
It was subtle; not until I left and thought about it did I realize the one-upping.

An opportunity to affirm turned to competition. Woe to me!

(Not the real conversation, but similar. You'll get the gist).
Hey Carolyn, thank you for dropping this off at church for me today.
No problem. I'm going to an important leadership meeting anyway.
I'd do it myself, but I need to bring lunch to Sandy.
I'm busy too. My year end Bible study brunch is this week. Twelve ladies is a squeeze even in my dining room.
Oh, and I was asked to help with a reception at church on Saturday. It was already a full weekend, but ...
We're hosting a missionary couple who are coming to town. They always stay with us. Clean the guest room again!

One-up-man-ship - the art or practice of outdoing or keeping one step ahead
of a friend or competitor. 
Do you see what is happening in the above exchange? We both are set on being the important one. The conversation overflowed with one-upping. We were not trusting Proverbs 11:25, "Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered." When I bless, God is able to enrich. One-upping not necessary.

This imaginary conversation could have been true. Both of us are committed to our friends and our local church. Both of us have strengths in hospitality and keep our guest rooms ready and clean towels in the bathroom.

Because we have much in common, we are more susceptible to one-upping.

Stewarding our gifting in serving ... even with words ...  is living God's grace. Thank you Peter for that reminder. I Peter 4:10.

Instead the conversation highlighted our insecurities. We spoke as though our involvements equaled our significance. NOT TRUE!

We needed  to cast our gaze on God to affirm our significance, the very significance he created in us, but we were silently begging the other to notice and affirm. BAD IDEA!

The unspoken desire actually accomplished the opposite - igniting the neediness of the other.

Paul reminds of the words of Jesus, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."  Acts 20:35. Most often I hear this reminder in terms of monetary giving. But could it not also refer to the giving of words of blessing and encouragement?
We don't need to one-up to prove our worthiness
or highlight our significance.
We were significant enough for Jesus to go to the cross for us.

And because of the cross, "Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand ..." Romans 5:2. 

"When I am living in God's grace,
I receive all the validation I need from Him."
Julie Breuninger 

Our listening was thwarted. Instead of blessing the serving of the other, we felt the need to insert ourselves into the story and be the important one.

We were acting as though our reputation was at stake in our doings. 

Our reputation is God's responsibility. Our part is to live out who God created us to be. Perhaps we were doing that with our serving and our hospitality. But the emphasis in our words highlighted the one-upping.

Do you hear the pride? Reading even the pretend responses was mortifying!

God exhorts through Peter to humble ourselves and allow Him to exalt. Never are we called to exalt ourselves. I Peter 5:8. One-upping is exalting self.

"If you want to really experience the flow of love as never before,
the next time you are in a competitive situation,
pray that the other around you will be more outstanding, more praised, and
more used of God than yourself."
Dallas Willard

"Grace liberates us to serve one another without the burden of competitiveness."
Julie Breuninger 

"Therefore encourage one another and build one another up ..."
I Thessalonians 5:11

"Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, 
but in humility count others more significant than yourselves."
Philippians 2:3 

When do you find yourself vulnerable to one-upping?
What helps you experience God meeting your significance needs?
What does living in the environment of grace look like for you?


Thursday, April 21, 2016

David's Story

My friend David is one of the directors of the Certificate in High Trust Leadership. CHTL is an online course for which it is my great privilege to be an adjunct faculty. I invited him to share part of his story on Echoes this week. Thank you, David.

You'll be so glad you invested 5 minutes and 54 seconds to watch this video.

Are you interested in living in the freedom of applied grace? I think this is one of the best definitions of CHTL

"Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand ..."
Romans 5:2

Grace is more than a doctrine, it is an environment in which we stand, in which we can live.
Men are welcome too.
In this graduate level course, you are exposed to excellent teaching videos covering blocks of scripture helping you learn how grace works; regular exercises putting these principles into practice leading you to an increased ability to apply grace in all your relationships; stories (like David's) and practical illustrations enhance it all. I encourage you  to check out the CHTL link above.
The next course starts in August. And YOU are invited. The value is both in the content and in the
interaction with the others in your cohort.
What questions do you have?
I'd love to talk.  sue

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Temptation, Shame, Community

Because of a course we're taking together, our conversation revolved around shame. She said, it's so hard to dig out. And when my shame is so obvious to me, it is so hard to connect to the grace of God.

I agree. 

Later, praying over our interaction, God brought Paul's words nestled in I Corinthians to mind, the way of escape.

"No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.
 God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability,
 but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape,
 that you may be able to endure it."
I Corinthians 10:13

I noted:
     * Temptation is a common issue.
     * God has a fence around temptation.
     * God provides a way of escape.
     * It won't overpower me.

A friend once commented that holiness is living with nothing hidden. Holiness is living in the light. I'm thinking that is the message of I John 1:5-10.

Then my thoughts circled back to Paul and his testimony in Philippians 1. In verses 19 and 20, he declares, 

"through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ
 this will turn out for my deliverance,
 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be ashamed ..." 

Paul was living in the light with his Philippian community. He was asking for their prayers. And his hope was, he would not be ashamed. 

Community was one key to him not being ashamed. Living in community involves humility.

Questions began to swirl ...

What is more important to me my reputation (or what I think it is) or living in the light?
What is more important, victory from the sin that is causing the shame, or living with it?
Who is my community?
Will I trust them with me, with my humanity, with my shame?
Do I believe there is a way of escape?

What questions do these scriptures bring to your mind?
What is the shame you are in the midst of? 
Will you believe your community can help?
Will you risk living in the light?

If you would like, I'm glad to be a trusted community for you.

Next week my friend David shares his story in a powerful 5 minute video. You won't want to miss hearing this.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Hugged by a Doctrine

I didn't realize, "stiff arm" was a football term.
Sitting across the table in a local eatery that night with our new friends, it was like I was holding my arm out straight, wrist bent back, my hand saying stop

Let's not get too close. Do I really want to be friends with you?

These are not normal feelings for extrovert me. I was wise enough to pause, and silently, secretly ask God, What is going on? Why am I responding this way?

I may have received one of my fastest answers to a prayer. Sue, you are judging. OUCH! Sue, you have put limits on my grace. OUCH, OUCH!

You see, I know some of their story. And I was giving myself permission to judge; I was giving myself permission to limit God's grace. I was acting (hopefully without showing it) self-righteous. After all my story is not quite so sinful. Hmmmm, since when is sin quantified?

Steve Brown in his book, A Scandalous Freedom, asks this question ...

Have you ever been hugged by a doctrine?

Of course not!

Knowing doctrine and living from that doctrine are two separate things.

Over the last few years I have been awed by the doctrine of righteousness.

With my faith came my righteousness. How did I miss this? I'm seeing it throughout the epistles these days. One of my favorites is ...

"And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly,
his faith is counted as righteousness,"
Romans 4:5

My faith is counted as righteousness - mind-boggling.

But knowing the doctrine did not change me. 

I needed God to hold me close, and whisper into my ear, how I was twisting this wonderful doctrine into self-righteousness. 

God prepared me. 

The week before this evening, I heard two - not one, but two - sermons on Philippians 3:3-9. 

In the first one, my son (the pastor) highlighted the surpassing worth of knowing Christ (verse 8). That is quite an expletive. And I'd been pondering that for several days. 

In the second, our home church pastor, focused on repenting of our righteousness. In verses 3-6 Paul laid out an impressive resume, but then he said, but whatever gain I had I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. He repented of his man-made self-righteousness. Some of Mark's words were, "our greatest spiritual danger is not our sin, but our righteousness".

Jerry Bridges said it this way, "I believe that human morality, rather than flagrant sin is the greatest obstacle to the gospel today".

The doctrine of righteousness did not hug me. 

But God hugged me as he used that night with our new friends to deepen my understanding of this wonderful doctrine, to live it out in my every day.

For me spiritual growth happens in community, in real life, with friends. This is the place that doctrines take on meaning.

I repented of my self-righteousness!

As we hugged good-by the next day, I knew I was a different person. The surpassing worth of living the righteousness of Christ, had changed me.

How do you experience doctrines changing your reactions to life?

"But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law ...the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:"
Romans 3:21, 22

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Volcanos and Lions and Easter

 Questions, thoughts spew like lava from an active volcano,
     Not fair!
     How can this be good?
     So, so hard!

All around grey, hot suffocating ash,
     gasping for breath.

Tears turn to sobs, chest-heaving sobs ...

     I . DON'T . GET . IT!

I'm not mad, really ... but confused,
     and so very, very sad.

It's been said,

March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. The words referring to weather. (BTW, not so in Colorado!)

It's like life this year. I would amend it - 2016 came in like a lion, a dangerous, stalking lion.

In the Old Testament, David's testimony is that the Lord delivered him from the paw of the lion.
I Samuel 17:34-37.

I can list the hards, the dangerous lion-like moments.
     The list is long.
I can list the I don't get its, this doesn't seem right.
     The list is long.

Each item on the list is real.
Then there is Easter! The excruciating cross. The resurrection.

The hards intersecting with hope and the reality of resurrection.

"And David said, "'The LORD who delivered me from the paw of he lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.'"
I Samuel 17:37

David knew and trusted the character of God. God is a delivering, rescuing God.

My lions were the hards that swept through my life. Those things that could have devoured, could have killed. 

But the LORD is delivering, the LORD is rescuing and redeeming. There is Easter!

Re-covering, Redeeming,
     Lord, please let it count.

Sue, don't force, don't pretend. 

Slowly light is dawning,
     creeping in,
     shining on Truth, resurrection truth.

I Peter 2:9 says, I am God's possession. 
I think, I belong to God. God loves his people. God cares for his people.
Each of these hards, another trust opportunity.
They just don't match how I understand good. 
But I am God's possession. He loves me. He cares about me and for me.
And I know there is Easter.

C.S. Lewis, a much wiser man than I got this.
(Thank you to my friend Amy Kozlarek for her painting of Aslan.)

My neighbor and I stopped to talk yesterday. How are you? she queried. I told her of the many 2016 hards. Her counsel, be good to yourself. Get a massage. 

Now, I love massages, but recovery is more than physical. Last September I penned these words. For me beauty and quiet are key. But my prescription also includes ...

Being with Jesus, enjoying his presence.
Reviewing and reminding myself of the character of God.
Listening for the voice of God.
Journaling and praying.
Remembering Easter.

As I practiced these disciplines, I Peter 2:9 led me to Psalm 34:8, "O taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!"

I might not get it, but I will trust it. I am going to take refuge in God. I want to taste and see his goodness. Thank you God for Easter.

I wonder, what is for you that refreshes and restores you after the hards of life? What does tasting and seeing look like for you?

Picture taken by my niece on her honeymoon in South Africa, January 2016.
"The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit."
Psalm 34:18

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Manifesting the Life of Jesus

My husband is prone to depression. Those months in the fall of 1999 blindsided us; they were difficult, adjusting, learning times. I hope we do not experience the depth of their darkness again.

I remember our conversation over dinner the night we received his diagnosis. “Are we going to tell our friends?” I queried. Bill responded, “Let’s not use the word depression; let’s say, Bill is exhausted.” While not admitting openly to the clinical diagnosis of depression, I longed for friends with whom I could talk. I’m an extrovert; I process out-loud.

Our initial attempts at sharing—but not really—with others were comical. A pattern emerged. As we (mostly me) communicated with others using our agreed on descriptor, the response was always, “Oh Bill is depressed.” Well, yes. God pushed us to vulnerability. 

As the depression waned and Bill began sharing his story another pattern manifested itself—a telling question from others, “Are you on medication?”  “Yes.” And then the admission from the questioner (after carefully checking to make sure no-one else heard), “I’ve never told anyone this, but I am too.” The underlying belief of many, depression is something to be embarrassed about.

For us—as well as countless others, depression is one of our crosses; a pain we carry in this life.

Give your pain to God as a sacrifice.
The Garden Tomb in Israel. Thank you to my friend Carolyn Eden.
 The apostle Paul knew about pain; he spoke of it in his letter to the Corinthian church as "a thorn". (II Corinthians 12:8). He pleaded with God to take it away; it remained. 

In a letter to the church at Philippi written from his prison cell Paul says, “as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not at all be ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” (Philippians 1:20). 

Paul’s exhortation to the church at Rome has a similar ring, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). 

Jesus lived with the painful reality that every day brought him closer to Gethsemane and Mount Calvary. 

The scriptures are filled with stories of hard things: sickness, death, corruption, and more. Life is pain-filled; life is full of crosses.

Give your pain to God as a sacrifice; like Paul did, like Jesus did.

How do I do that?
·         Don’t be surprised by my pain.
·         Don’t hide my pain.
·         Allow my pain to bless; to be redemptive. 

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.”
II Corinthians 4:7-12

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Jerry Knew the Surpassing Worth

The afternoon that Jerry Bridges was welcomed into the arms of Jesus, I was in California attending our son's church, New Life Burbank. Jeff was in the midst of a sermon series on Philippians. That Sunday he exegeted Philippians 3:8-11. I've been pondering the phrase surpassing worth (verse 8) since. I believe like Paul, Jerry knew the beyond-everything-else-value of finding his righteousness in Jesus. (verse 9)

Five days later, Bill and I sat in our own church, Village Seven, in Colorado at Jerry's memorial service. Our pastor Mark Bates, following Jerry's request, spoke on the very same passage. Mark highlighted the references to righteousness. He spoke of sometimes needing to repent of our righteousness. Paul repented of his righteousness and found his true righteousness coming from his faith in Jesus, as did Jerry.

For the past three years I've been pondering my righteousness that results from faith in God and the implications of that for me. Mark offered new insights to my pondering.

My husband also penned two wonderful tributes to Jerry and the friendship they shared. So as a personal tribute to Jerry, I want to share Jeff's, Mark's, and Bill's words with you. - Jeff's sermon.  - Jerry's memorial service. (Mark's message starts at minute 54).  - This is Bill's post from last week. This week's post also honors Jerry.

A personal thought from the last few days:

I do not need to Rehearse my righteousness.
I do need to Reflect the righteousness I have because of Jesus.
I need to Repent of my false righteousness.

"For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh ... But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes form the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith ... "
Philippians 3:3 and 3:7-9